Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This is my first Vonnegut, and I've no idea why it's taken me so long to meet this writer. I've been aware of Vonnegut for quite a while, but perhaps the fact that I interact online with quite a few writers and readers from the USA is bringing US writers more to the forefront of my mind.
He's one of those writers that so many people refer to – I see quotes purporting to be from this author all the time on social media – but I wonder how many of those folks quoting him, have actually read his books.
I can only say that, after reading Slaughterhouse 5, I'm keen to see what else Vonnegut has to offer.
Let me begin by saying that it's hard to put this book into a genre. Is this really a time travel book at all? Not in the traditional sense, although it does use the timeline in a wonderfully creative way. Now, because of this unusual story structure, I'd guess that this book won't be for everybody. If you like a straight, linear narrative, then you may not enjoy this book.
Slaughterhouse 5 plays with the idea of disjointed time, perhaps echoing the way that a traumatic event rebounds throughout a person's life, constantly dragging them back to the past when they least expect it. So there are elements of time travel throughout. There are also alien worlds and abductions mingled in with the story, but I'd be hard pushed to describe this as a sci-fi book. Perhaps you're starting to wonder if this isn't all just a bit too preposterous, overblown and ‘literary'. But don't worry – it isn't pretentious. I hate those books where literary pretension gets in the way of the story and I'd let you know if this book was guilty of that sin.
So, what sort of book is it?
At its heart, it's an anti-war book. The ludicrous Billy Pilgrim is everyman thrown into the barbarities of war. Life is fragile and ridiculous and untimely deaths stalk the pages. As Vonnegut might say, “So it goes.”
The incredibly destructive allied bombing of Dresden in WWII is central to the plot, and Vonnegut's first-hand experiences of those events are vivid, shocking, harrowing, and sometimes – strangely – very funny. I have to admire the way Vonnegut deals with this subject in such a human way – it's very effective in bringing the message home. Some episodes must have been very painful to write, and at times, Vonnegut drops us out of the story and reminds us that he was there – he knows the truth of his story.
Be prepared to suspend your disbelief and follow Billy Pilgrim through a life lived in disjointed episodes, played out in no particular order. Stick with it. It's a short read and it is a satisfying story because each episode takes us forward.
I think Vonnegut carries the whole thing off superbly and there are images here that will stay with me for years to come. War is never glamorous or exciting – it's brutal and filthy and mundane, and through it all, ordinary men, women and children plod wearily onward with heavy hearts, empty bellies, and broken shoes. And sometimes, they're burned alive.
Have you read this book? Or can you recommend the next Vonnegut I should try?
Comments, of course, are always very welcome.
Until next time, Happy Reading.
Want to Read it Yourself? Here you go – links to Amazon: